US President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held talks in the Oval Office on Friday, February 10, after which they flew to Palm Beach, Florida for a weekend at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
Ahead of the meeting, Japanese officials have reportedly been preparing by, among other things, reading Trump’s 1990 interview with Playboy Magazine, during which he rails against Japan on trade, according to the Wall Street Journal’s Jacob M. Schlesinger and Alastair Gale.
Although reading a quarter-century old article from Playboy in preparation for talks may at first seem to be somewhat unorthodox, in the interview Trump discusses many talking points about foreign policy and economics similar to those he pitched during his campaign for the White House.
At the time, he told Playboy that he was “one hundred per cent sure” he does not want to be president unless he saw “this country continue to go down the tubes.” Nevertheless, he did answer a variety of questions regarding what he would do as president and how he, at the time, perceived other countries and leaders.
We put together three of his comments on various subjects from 1990 and compared them to what he said and did in 2016-2017.
On the first thing he would do upon entering the Oval Office:
What Trump said in Playboy in 1990: “Many things. A toughness of attitude would prevail. I’d throw a tax on every Mercedes-Benz rolling into this country and on all Japanese products, and we’d have wonderful allies again.”
What Trump did in 2016-2017: Trump made the debate over free trade one of the central topics of his campaign, although he focused more on China and Mexico, followed by Japan. He argued in favour of ripping up trade deals and once even suggested putting a 45% tariff on Chinese imports.
Upon entering office, he swiftly signed an executive order regarding his intent to pull the United States out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and emphasised his intention to renegotiate the “very unfair” North American Free Trade agreement (NAFTA).
What Trump said in Playboy in 1990: “I like [President] George [H. W.] Bush very much and support him and always will. But I disagree with him when he talks of a kinder, gentler America. I think if this country gets any kinder or gentler, it’s literally going to cease to exist. I think if we had people from the business community — the Carl Icahns, the Ross Perots — negotiating some of our foreign policy, we’d have respect around the world. […]
“[A president Trump] would believe very strongly in extreme military strength. He wouldn’t trust anyone. He wouldn’t trust the Russians; he wouldn’t trust our allies; he’d have a huge military arsenal, perfect it, understand it. Part of the problem is that we’re defending some of the wealthiest countries in the world for nothing…. We’re being laughed at around the world, defending Japan.”
What Trump said and did in 2016-2017: Trump has repeated the idea that America is a “laughing stock” numerous times since the 1990s. For example, in November 2016 he said, “Our country is a laughingstock. All over the world, they’re laughing.” A few months earlier, he said that Hillary Clinton would not be capable of negotiating with Russian President Vladimir Putin: “Hillary likes to play tough with Russia. Putin looks at her and he laughs, OK. He laughs. Putin looks at Hillary Clinton and he smiles.”
Moreover, over the course of his campaign, Trump repeatedly commented on the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), saying that it is “costing us a fortune and yes, we’re protecting Europe but we’re spending a lot of money” and that it “is unfair, economically, to us, to the United States. Because it really helps them more so than the United States, and we pay a disproportionate share.”
Notably, Trump did select businessmen for his Cabinet, including former Chairman and CEO of ExxonMobil Rex Tillerson for secretary of state, billionaire investor Wilbur Ross to head up the Commerce Department, and former Wall Street banker Steve Mnuchin for treasury secretary. (Ross and Mnuchin have not been confirmed yet as of this publication.)
What Trump said in Playboy in 1990 about former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev and the Tiananmen Square protests: “Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand. […]
Yet Gorbachev is getting credit for being a wonderful leader — and we should continue giving him credit, because he’s destroying the Soviet Union.”
“When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world — .”
What Trump said about Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2016: Trump has spoken about Putin on various occasions over the course of his campaign and his new presidency, echoing his earlier interest in the “strength” of leaders.
In an interview with NBC’s Matt Lauer in September 2016 he commented on his leadership style, saying: “He is really very much of a leader. You can say, ‘Oh, isn’t that a terrible thing,’ I mean, the man has very strong control over his country. Now, it’s a very different system, and I don’t happen to like the system, but certainly in that system he’s been a leader, far more than [President Barack Obama] has been a leader.”
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